Mosquito Survives in Space for 18 Months

Mosquitos: Tougher than they look
Mosquitos: Tougher than they look

According to results from a Russian biology experiment on the International Space Station (ISS), a mosquito has survived the rigours of space for 18 months. However, this little winged insect didn’t do it inside the comfort of the ISS, he did it outside, in a small can.

The experiment was carried out by the same Russian-Japanese collaboration that brought us Space Beer from space-grown barley (I think you know my feelings about that endeavour), to study the effects of microgravity on various organisms and plants. However, in this case, our little mosquito drew the short straw and was attached to the outside of the station.

The mosquito study is intended to see how the insect copes with being exposed to damaging cosmic rays and the extreme variations in temperature, in the build-up to a possible Russian manned mission to Mars. According to a Russian media source, the future Mars cosmonauts are already training for the mission in a forest outside Moscow
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Pentagon Denies Space Weapons

“The United States is not developing space weapons and could not afford to do so even if it wanted to” said an official with the Pentagon last Thursday. Space weapons have always been a bit of a hush-hush topic, and it looks like the trend hasn’t been broken with this recent announcement. The real issue surrounding the announcement is what the Pentagon’s ideas of “space weapons” are.

Guest article by John Nestler (website: Space Marauder)

space_weapons

The United States is not developing space weapons and could not afford to do so even if it wanted to,” said an official with the Pentagon last Thursday. Space weapons have always been a bit of a hush-hush topic, and it looks like the trend hasn’t been broken with this recent announcement. The real issue surrounding this announcement is what the Pentagon’s ideas of “space weapons” are…
Continue reading “Pentagon Denies Space Weapons”

Visualizing the Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 Collision (Update: Video Added)

Less than a day after news of the unprecedented in-orbit collision between the active Iridium communications and defunct Russian satellites, the software company AGI has already carried out an analysis of the event. A detailed animation has been released depicting the velocity, angle of impact and statistical distribution of debris. Although the CGI is missing (I would have liked to have seen at least an explosion, shockwave and shards of twisted smoking metal. Come on guys, have a little fun!), it is a great visual aid for us to get a grip of what happened up there. To be honest I’m still blown away that this happened at all. There might be a lot of junk up there, but the statistical likelihood of this happening is still low.

You can also download the full-resolution AGI animation of the incident at their website…

Here are some visualizations of the impact in full 3D glory. All images courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com):

A special thanks to Stefanie Claypoole at AGI for notifying me about this material.

It’s Not One-Way Traffic: Satellites Collide at 790 km

© David Clark
© David Clark

On Tuesday, at approximately 5pm GMT, two satellites made history. They became the first artificial satellites ever to collide accidentally in low-Earth orbit. The event happened between a defunct Russian satellite (Cosmos 2251, launched in 1993) and an active commercial Iridium communications satellite (Iridium 33, launched in 1997), destroying the pair. Now there’s a mess up there, pieces of debris threatening other satellites, possibly even the International Space Station
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Can SpaceX Benefit from NASA’s Share of the Economic Stimulus Package?

The Falcon 9/Dragon launch configuration for crew transport. Note the launch escape rocket added to the Dragon capsule nose cone (SpaceX)
The Falcon 9/Dragon launch configuration for crew transport. Note the launch escape rocket added to the Dragon capsule nose cone (SpaceX)

Over the weekend, I discussed the pros and cons of a recent article written by Mars Society President Robert Zubrin. In his discussion for a Washington D.C. political website, he outlined his thoughts on how to enrich the US economy. One of the points raised was the argument that a manned mission to Mars would have a huge economic impact on the USA; creating jobs, invigorating science education and boosting national well being. This is a worthy argument that, in principal, holds a lot of merit. After all, the Apollo Program in the 1960’s had a lasting effect on the US, creating jobs in the aerospace industry, bolstering the economy and creating a generation of highly skilled scientists and engineers.

So why not do Apollo 2.0? Send man to Mars as a measure to recreate the economic benefits generated by the Space Race against the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, no modern government would sensibly invest in such a plan. There is no political incentive to do so (well, no acute incentive that requires the US to “beat” a competing superpower in the race to strategically dominate space).

But what if the recent economic $800+ billion stimulus package could be used to stimulate another, burgeoning sector of space flight, that has both political and financial merit?

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is asking the same question. Could NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts get a boost in funding, accelerating a commercial answer to the looming 5-year gap in US manned spaceflight? This is where SpaceX needs your help…
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Can a Mission to Mars Stimulate the Economy?

Could a NASA manned mission to Mars really stimulate the economy? (Mars Society/Ian O'Neill)
Could a NASA manned mission to Mars really stimulate the economy? (Mars Society/Ian O'Neill)

When times get tough, the world needs visionaries.

Visionaries find solutions, they invent systems and invoke change. One such figure in current events with a weight of 300 million people on his shoulders, is the new US President Barack Obama. His entire political campaign is based on bringing change to the USA (and the world), making him the most prominent political figure out there. Is he a visionary? Some would argue that he is, others would say that history will decide that point. I’m on the fence as to whether Obama will find historic solutions to these seemingly insurmountable global crises. But the thing I admire about the new US President is that he is a strong leader, and sometimes, that is all a country needs to pull itself from the precipice and back to prosperity.

So, the Obama-backed $800+ billion economic stimulus package is currently pumping through the system to eventually be divvied up and sent to areas of the economy that need to be reinvigorated. In principal, it’s a good idea. But what if it fails? Unfortunately there’s an awful lot more riding on Obama’s shoulders than 300 million hopes; $800 billion of their taxes will be keeping the new President awake until the early hours. If this all goes right, Barack Obama will go down as one of history’s visionaries; if it all goes wrong… well, let’s just not go there for the time being

There will be critics of any economic bailout, and others who think there are better options. Robert Zubrin, founder and President of the Mars Society, has come forward with his suggestions to aid economic recovery…
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Why Are Clandestine Space Launches So Sexy?

A Delta IV Heavy launches... but to where? (AFSC)
A Delta IV Heavy launches... but to where? (AFSC)

Last weekend (Saturday, Jan. 17th), one of the most powerful rockets on the planet thundered to life at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying something into space. Although the world has a good idea as to what this something was, it was a reminder that even during these times of intense media scrutiny and the guise of government transparency that there is a lot going on in space that we may never know about. However, far from clandestine launches at the dead of night being a bad thing, they appear to whet the worlds appetite for finding out more about the top secret military payloads routinely being put into orbit…
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Oh No! Rocket Launches Are Bad for the Environment? We’d Better Stay at Home Then

A small environmental impact, Falcon 1 launches in September 2008 (SpaceX)
A small environmental impact, Falcon 1 launches in September 2008 (SpaceX)

For every article written about the amazing advances in space vehicle technology, there are two negative comments about the pointlessness of space exploration.What’s the point?“, “We have war, famine, poverty and human suffering around the world, why invest billions on space?“, “What’s space exploration ever done for me?“. However, today, after I wrote a pretty innocuous article about the awesome SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being hoisted vertically on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, I get a comment (anonymous, naturally) starting off with, “This launch and others like it should be halted indefinitely until it’s carbon footprint and environmental impact can be accounted for.” The commenter then goes into something about making an environmental assessment, levying SpaceX’s taxes and setting up a board of environmental scientists. Oh please.

On the one hand, I’m impressed by this person’s spirited stand against environmental damage, carbon emissions and global warming, but on the other, this is probably one of the most misplaced environmentalism attacks I have seen to date. There are extremists on both sides of the “green” debate, but the last thing we need is an attack against the only answer we have to fight climate change. And that answer comes in the form of a cigar shaped polluter, blasting into Earth orbit; whether you like it or not, it is a necessary (yet small) evil…
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In a Picture: Snoopy’s Apollo 10

Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford pats the nose of a stuffed Snoopy held by Jamye Flowers (Coplin), Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper's secretary (NASA)
Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford pats the nose of a stuffed Snoopy held by Jamye Flowers (Coplin), Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper's secretary (NASA)

On May 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts Gene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford orbited the Moon on a reconnaissance mission that would lead to the first lunar landing by Apollo 11 later that year. During the mission, the lunar module came within 50,000 feet of the surface, to “snoop around”. It is therefore fitting that the module should be called Snoopy and the Apollo command module be named Charlie Brown.

In the scene above, Jamye Flowers Coplin (Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper’s secretary) hugging a stuffed Snoopy, sees off the Apollo 10 crew as they make their way to the launch pad. Mission commander Tom Stafford gives Snoopy a rub on the nose.

Later this month, Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 10 mission with an exhibition of the connection between the three pioneering astronauts and the tenacious cartoon beagle.

Snoopy’s connection with NASA actually began before Apollo 10. In 1968, NASA chose the beagle as an icon who would “emphasize mission success and act as a ‘watchdog’ for flight safety.”

Established that same year, the agency’s “Silver Snoopy Award” is considered the astronauts personal award, given for outstanding efforts that contribute to the success of human space flight missions. Award winners receive a sterling silver Snoopy lapel pin flown in space, along with a certificate and letter of appreciation from NASA astronauts. Fewer than 1% of the workforce is recognized with a Silver Snoopy annually, making it one of the most prized awards in the industry.

NASA press release, Jan. 5th 2009

For me, the scene captures a very special moment in space flight history, one that I find strangely moving. The pride, excitement and bravery of the time are communicated wonderfully.

snoopy_moon

Merge NASA with the Military? Scrap Constellation? Really?

A Delta IV Medium rocket launch (USAF)
A Delta IV Medium rocket launch (USAF)

Actually, I’m not overly surprised by this news, but it could be a kick in the teeth for the future of the US civilian space program. According to Bloomberg News late Thursday night, the Obama transition team will probably (note “probably”, not “possibly”) advise a collaboration between NASA and the Pentagon to fast-track development of the next launch vehicle.

But there’s a catch, Constellation doesn’t appear to be a part of the plan.

Apparently feeling the pressure from diplomatic issues with Russia, and China signalling a renewed vigour in their intent to land on the Moon before NASA’s planned 2020 landing, the Obama administration is looking for a cost-effective solution to the Shuttle decommissioning in 2010. Unfortunately the Constellation program has never been considered “cost effective”, it’s always been considered the best course of action. With the economic noose tightening around all government departments, the US space agency has been finding it very hard to explain the ballooning costs and technical challenges associated with Constellation.

Last year, the Pentagon’s space program received $22 billion, one third more than NASA’s entire budget, so it seems reasonable that funds could be shared. But it sounds like NASA could be merging certain aspects of the civilian space program with the US military space program, probably scrapping Constellation and making military Delta IV and Atlas V rockets “human rated”…
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